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International Conference on Affirmative Action and the

Sustainable Development Goal of Gender Equality

22nd- 23rd September, 2018

Tamil Nadu National Law School, Tiruchirappalli

in collaboration with
Oxford Human Rights Hub, Oxford University, United Kingdom

Call for Papers

In 2015 the United Nations adopted a resolution which laid down 17
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the purpose of “transforming our
world” by 2030. The 5th goal in the list was to “Achieve gender equality and
empower all women and girls” (Goal 5). Under this broad goal, the
resolution also proposed specific targets, including “...full and effective
participation and equal opportunities for leadership [for women] at all levels
of decision-making in political, economic and public life”. National
governments are free to adopt measures to achieve these targets and goals,
while taking into account local conditions.
One of the most direct legislative or policy interventions that can be taken
by States to achieve Goal 5 of the SDGs is affirmative action (AA) - positive
discrimination in favour of women in leadership positions either through
reserved quotas or through institutional preferences. Despite its success in
increasing participation of women in leadership positions, AA remains
controversial. Critics oppose
AA on the grounds of it being anti-meritocratic, discriminatory against men,
and paying inadequate attention to the economic as well as social
disparities between different classes of women. Moreover, countries that
have AA policies are still grappling with deeply entrenched gender
inequalities, leading some to question the overall utility of AA.
India, for example, was one of the first countries to adopt AA policies
favouring women in elected bodies. The 73rd and 74th Amendments to the
Indian Constitution provided that not less than one-third of the seats in the
village councils as well as urban municipalities should be reserved for
women. Further, the amendments provided that one-third of the
chairpersons of both village councils and municipalities have to be women.
Despite this constitutional push, gender equality in leadership positions in
India remains a distant goal. Studies have shown that most reserved seats
are held by female relatives of local male elites in villages, who act as
proxies for the unelected male leaders and have little say in local
governance. Further, there is little upward mobility amongst local women
leaders, and very few of them are able to win seats in state or central level
legislatures. Currently, only 11.8 percent of the members of the central
legislature of India are women, putting India at the 148 th position in the
world rankings of women’s representation in government by UN Women. A
bill to provide reservation to women in the national legislature has been
introduced numerous times in the parliament, but has on each occasion,
failed to pass.
While AA in politics has been heavily debated, less attention has been given
to AA in other positions of responsibility. India, for example, has used
affirmative action to reserve seats for women in educational institutions as
well as in public employment. This has been done without significant
controversy, primarily because the original provisions in its Constitution
permitted the State to make such “special provisions” in favour of women.
AA policies are now being suggested in favour of women as directors in
company boards, professors in academia, judges in the courts of law and
civil servants. In general, however, academic attention to AA beyond
politics, and its possibility of achieving Goal 5 of the SDGs has been largely
Another area which remains largely unexplored by scholars who study AA is
that of intersectionality. Critics have shown that political reservations for
women in India have largely benefitted the upper-caste, upper-class woman,
which has led to further entrenchment between caste and class hierarchies
in rural India. A similar criticism has been made by critical race feminists,
who have long argued that “women of color are marginalized or erased in
discourses over sex and gender, as well as over race and ethnicity” and
therefore lose out disproportionately from AA policies. In effect, proponents
of this view argue that AA achieves a formalistic, numerical representation
of women which does not lead to the inclusive, transformative gender
equality that the SDGs aim for.
This conference proposes to bring together scholars, practitioners and
students working in the fields of law, statistics, economics, sociology,
anthropology, public policy, gender studies and other social sciences, to
explore the link between AA policies that favour women in positions of
leadership and achieving target 5.5 of the SDGs.
I. Conference Sub-themes
1. Efficacy of Affirmative Action in Achieving Gender Equality and
Goal 5 of the SDGs
The central question of the conference is whether AA policies lead to gender
equality. This question is particularly pressing, given that States which have
AA policies often continue to perform poorly on global indicators of gender
equality. The argument supporting AA’s potential to bring in sustainable
social change has, until now, suffered from a lack of reliable time-series
data. Debates on the issue have thus focused more on rhetoric and
possibilities, rather than evidence. We therefore
invite papers which bring to the foreground, evidence that either supports
or negates the link between AA and Goal 5. Submissions that investigate the
claim that AA policies lead to an increase in numerical representation of
women without leading to transformative and sustainable gender justice are
encouraged. We are particularly interested in empirical studies on the
efficacy of AA policies, which includes quantitative studies that aggregate
existing survey data as well as case-studies based on ethnographic work. All
such papers will inevitably have to adopt or develop indicators which
measure progress towards Goal 5, and we thus encourage papers that
create reliable empirical indices measuring Goal 5 targets for other scholars
to use.
2. Affirmative Action for Women and Human Rights Law
AA policies are often challenged on the grounds of violating one or more
tenets of human rights law. In India, for example, caste-based AA policies
were placed under judicial scrutiny as they allegedly violated the “equality
before law” provision within the Indian Constitution. We therefore invite
papers which answer the question: How do we resolve conflicts between AA
policies for women and human rights law? More specifically, we encourage
papers that look at comparative and theoretical analysis of AA and as well
as submissions that locate AAs place within the larger domain of anti-
discrimination law. We are also interested in papers which explore the
relationship between AA and other gender-specific approaches, with
protective legislation on the one hand, and maternity/parental leave, child-
care facilities, social security etc. on the other. Papers may address whether
these approaches compliment or are in conflict with each other, or explore
the comparative efficacies of the two in achieving Goal 5. We also
encourage submissions which seek to locate AA within the wider framework
of CEDAW and other relevant international human rights instruments, as
well as comparative law and social science.
3. Affirmative Action through Reservation Policies vs. Affirmative
Action through Preference Policies
While most AA policies focus on reservation, there exist other methods of
positive discrimination in favour of women. AA is also possible through
preference-based policies such as, inter alia, lowering minimum eligibility
standards, adding additional selection points in a point-based selection
system or creating work environments favourable to the preferred class.
Despite its widespread use, especially in admissions to educational
institutions, preference-based AA policies have not received enough
academic attention. We thus invite papers which answer the question - How
do preference based AA policies compare with those based on reservation?
4. Intersectionality in Affirmative Action: Situating Caste, Class
And Race in the Affirmative Action Dialogue
Class, caste and race continue to define the hierarchical domains in which
AA policies for women might be situated. Consequently, AA policies are
often criticised as benefiting the rich, upper-caste, white woman. Poor,
lower-caste, coloured women continue to face multiple fronts of
discrimination, in addition to discrimination due to gender. We invite papers
which look into this
relationship between gender and other forms of discrimination, as well as
those which address how
AA should take this relationship into account. One method of taking into
account intersectionality is “double dip” AA policies - positive discrimination
in favour of certain groups within seats reserved for women. We encourage
papers which favour or critique such policies, as well as those which are
aimed at understanding the difference between gender-based AA and AA
policies for race, caste and class.
5. Affirmative Action in Non-Political Institutions
Scholarship on AA for women has largely been restricted to political
representation. AA has however often been suggested as a policy to break
the glass-ceiling in all leadership positions, including in the private sector.
We thus invite papers which investigate the possibility of AA policies in non-
political contexts such as courts, tribunals, civil services, companies and
academia. We are particularly interested in submissions which address
whether the contextual differences in institutions affect the application of
AA policies in favour of women.
6. Affirmative Action: Strategies for Mobilisation
The issue of AA for women has faced significant opposition despite
extensive mobilization in its favour. AA policies that favour women have
thus seldom found their way into legislation, possibly because men in these
institutions want to maintain status quo. There is thus a need to understand
the deeper structural dynamics that influence legislative processes which
crystallize AA. We invite papers which attempt to understand and critique
the strategies used by AA advocates to garner support for AA. Is there a
need to reframe the AA debate in new and innovative ways? How can we
integrate AA into the wider debate for gender equality, Goal 5 and the
SDGs? What can we learn from strategies used in different States, by
different actors in favour of AA? We encourage submissions which attempt
to answer these questions.
These themes are, of course, intended to be suggestive and we
remain open to other novel approaches which study the link between
affirmative action and gender justice.
II. Conference Details
The conference will be held on 22nd- 23rd September, 2018 at Tamil Nadu
National Law School in Tiruchirappalli, India. The conference will run over
the 2 days with parallel sessions in the morning, afternoon and evening.
Participants are expected to secure their own funds for airfare and
accommodation. Local transportation and meals will be provided to the
presenters. Should you require additional assistance, please contact us at
III. Conference Schedule

1. Call for Papers 19th December, 2017

2. Last date for submission of abstracts 10th March, 2018
3. Intimation of selection of abstracts 30th March, 2018
Last date for submission of draft
4. papers 1st July, 2018
22nd- 23rd September,
5. Conference Dates 2018

IV. Submission Guidelines

Please email your abstract as an MS-Word (.doc, .docx) file without any
identifying references to with the
subject-line “Abstract Submission”. Please attach a separate document
containing the title of the proposed paper, name of the author(s) and name
of the institution(s). Abstracts are due by 11:59 PM on 10 th March 2018.
Abstracts must not exceed 800 words. Co-authorship is allowed.
Abstracts will be selected through a double-blind peer-review process.
Selection will be based on originality, method and relevance to the
conference theme as well as geographical and gender balance. Only one
abstract per author will be considered. Selected authors will be notified by
30th March, 2018. Draft papers will be due on 1st July, 2018.
V. Publication
Select conference papers will be published in a special edition of the
TNNLS Law Review.
For clarifications, please write to
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